When we visited Nashville a couple years back, we briefly visited Hatch Show Print and I bought a poster of Johnny Cash, which today hangs in my den over my sofa. I sometimes sit and meditate under Johnny's picture. When I got the Unchained album, it spent more time on my CD player than most other things I've bought.
Friday morning, I woke up and saw on the Yahoo! news that Johnny Cash had died. I made coffee and walked around the block with Chester, came back to the kitchen and reached into the cabinet for a cup. There was a plain white cup on the top shelf which I reached for and found it was the Sun Records cup that we bought on our trip down south. Laurie and I rode our bicycles all over downtown Memphis that day. Never have I felt a placemore hallowed than I did visiting Sun Studios. When you imagine that Elvis made those great records there and Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee and Howlin' Wolf (where Chester got his name). But Johnny Cash has been there my whole life, the music from my parents radio station that I really loved. I remember hearing "What is Truth" on the radio when I was, geez, 10 years old or something, during the Vietnam War. Maybe that's what gave me the courage to be a 12-year-old McGovern supporter and what's made me the bleeding heart liberal I am now.
Years later, going through one of my periodic "catching up on Bob Dylan" phases, I picked up the Nashville Skyline album (yes, on vinyl) and there was Johnny, playing and singing with Dylan, in his best voice, on "Girl From The North Country".
There was something about the man that made him rise above the material he sang. Songs like "Solitary Man" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which are great songs but have been played so much that their weight , their gravitas has been lost and would be lame or campy in lesser hands. And the newer songs, like "Rusty Cage" or "Hurt", he fully inhabits them and brings that gravitas to them and transforms them from the vain cries of some disaffected youngster to the songs of a man who has experienced real loss.
On my personal Mount Rushmore, I imagine Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, the ones who seem to exemplify what it means to be a man in America, to have experienced hurt and loss and to continue holding your head up, to keep hoping.